As his friend, Pat Conroy, noted in the memorial service, Marlette was especially dismissive of Allan Gurganus. On his personal webpage, Gurganus describes himself in the following fashion: “Allan Gurganus writes the funniest books possible about the worst things that can happen to people. Fearless in his treatment of sexuality, race relations, the lies of human history and the scope of human grief, he is still considered ‘one of our essential comic writers.’ Gurganus's fiction---as meditative as hilarious---goes on inspiring strong criticism and an even fiercer loyalty.”
It’s good to see that modesty is among Gurganus’ many personal traits.
In early April, the local author had published a substantial (more than 1500 words, twice the normal length) op-ed on the lacrosse case in the New York Times.
The piece—which was riddled with factual errors that the Times allowed to appear in print, most of which were never corrected—reads more like an application letter for a position with the Group of 88 than a serious piece of analysis. (Gurganus stated in the op-ed that he has occasionally taught at Duke.) Dripping with contempt at the presumption of innocence, Gurganus’ intellectually indefensible group-based assumptions raise serious questions of how the Times evaluated op-ed submissions in spring 2006.
Below is a summary of some of the worst of what Gurganus produced—which should, if nothing else, serve as a reminder that Marlette was on target in his criticisms.
“Lacrosse was our Eden’s first team sport. The Cherokees called it ‘the little brother of war.’ They swore it offered superb battle training. It bred loyalty among players, a solidarity demonstrated by the code of silence among Duke’s party attendees. These included the team’s one black member and only Durham native.”
- In fact, there was no code of silence—and the false claim that the players had engaged in a code of silence formed one reason why Mike Nifong was disbarred.
- Gurganus left unclear to whom in the “Durham community” he referred. The local protesters who carried “castrate” signs or who distributed “wanted” posters would not strike most people as exemplars of “good will.”
- To what “promises” was Gurganus referring? Many of the lacrosse players received no scholarships at all; others received need-based financial aid.
- Especially in lacrosse? At Duke—as at its ACC competitors where lacrosse is played—a far smaller percentage of lacrosse players receive athletic scholarships than in other sports, such as basketball or football. That Gurganus was allowed to make such a claim raises questions as to whether the Times employs any fact-checkers.
- A few days later, the Times was forced to run a correction: “While Duke recently bought the house, its previous owner, not the university, had rented it to the players. The article also suggested that athletes get preferential treatment in obtaining desirable housing; Duke says that is not its policy.”
- In fact, as the Coleman Committee report revealed, it wasn’t even in the top ten of off-campus houses. And since 610 Buchanan hadn’t been rented to lacrosse players in previous years, how did what occurred in it before September 2005 have any relevance to Gurganus’ op-ed?
- “Duke,” of course, didn’t “plant” a “sports team” anywhere, since before winter 2006, Duke didn’t own any houses in the neighborhood. Making such false claims is always a danger when writing an op-ed based on unsubstantiated second-hand gossip.
- I hadn’t realized that Gurganus was also a sports psychologist. One wonders what sets of behavior he considers derived from the “nature” of tennis? Of water polo? Of track? Of fencing? Since the Duke lacrosse team had no record of violent behavior, in any case, it appears that its players didn’t “take on the nature of their particular sport” very well.
- “Known” by whom? In the thousands upon thousands of articles and op-eds published on the case, Gurganus’ piece is, to my knowledge, the only one to claim that the team was “known on campus as the Meatheads.” Again, does the Times employ fact-checkers?
- In fact, this event allegedly occurred more than two weeks after the party (again, where were the Times’ fact-checkers?); and the claims were strenuously denied by both employees of the bar and an assistant coach for the women’s lacrosse team who was present that evening.
- In fact, the three captains made voluntary, lengthy statements. Gurganus’ assertion makes sense only by presuming guilt. Since, according to AG Roy Cooper, nothing happened at the party, it’s hard to see how the players could have “not snitched.”
- In fact, as Officer Ben Himan’s case notes recently revealed, the most serious complaint the “neighbors” had about the occupants of the house was that the three captains didn’t park their cars well. The Coleman Committee discovered that those neighbors wishing to personally “complain to the university” actually were referring to non-lacrosse houses.
- These two sentences are the most ironic of Gurganus’s screed: what he termed the “police report” (presumably, in fact, the non-testimonial order affidavit, since a “police report” hadn’t been released as of the time this op-ed appeared) should have read like a novel—since the “report” was pure fiction.
- In fact, the players in Wood’s class had missed one class, because of travel requirements for a game the next day at the University of Virginia—and had, according to NCAA policies, obtained advance permission to miss the class. None of them had “cut” class.
- This statement is almost comical. Gurganus’ op-ed appeared four days after the Brodhead April 5 letter—which didn’t even mention the presumption of innocence and treated as a given the fact that a rape occurred. Could it be that, to those in Gurganus’ intellectual circles, the administration’s “timidity” was proven by its refusal to follow Houston Baker’s admonition that all 46 white lacrosse players be immediately expelled from school, without due process?
- This statement is, in many ways, true. But the assault on the core curriculum—on teaching the great works of Shakespeare and the Greeks—came not from those associated with athletes but from people like Gurganus’ allies among the Group of 88, activist professors determined to redefine the curriculum along lines of race, class, and gender.
- When so-called “intellectuals” feel “vividly alive” only while publishing op-eds that incorrectly presume guilt and ignore due process, we must all ask why.
- These assertions are nothing short of absurd. That they appeared in the New York Times should raise serious questions (a) about how op-eds are accepted; and (b) the fact-checking process employed for accepted op-eds.
That’s a difficult question to answer. But it’s not difficult to see that the answer to this question will not come from people like Gurganus or his allies in the Group of 88.
Hat tip: M.W.